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Penguins/Flames Recap: Slow start burns Pittsburgh in Calgary

The Pens fall behind early and don’t have the juice to beat Jacob Markstrom enough to get back into the game, dropping their second game in as many days

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports


Welcome to the National, Sam Poulin! The Penguins’ 2019 first round pick makes his NHL debut, courtesy of Jason Zucker being too banged up to play from an apparent cross-check to the midsection last night in Edmonton. As a result, Jeff Carter slides up to be Evgeni Malkin’s winger to fit Poulin in at center. Also, on defense Pierre-Olivier Joseph takes his first seat of the season and the Pens opt to dress four right-hand shot d-men. Casey DeSmith caps off all these lineup changes with his second start of the season.

First period

Chad Ruhwedel opens up on his first shift and chips the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, but the Pittsburgh PK’ers take care of the Calgary power play.

That helps contribute for a slow start for the Pens, and by 14:11 into the game, the shots are 15-1 in favor of the Flames. That 15th shot is the game’s first goal, with Nazem Kadri finally beating DeSmith after Calgary wore down the Pens’ third defensive pair and got the puck out from behind the net for Kadri to smack in and open the scoring.

Pittsburgh got their first power play of the game, but it did little to get them out of their funk and soon after it expired Kadri made them pay again. Poulin gained the zone but turned the puck over at the blueline (can’t do that in the show!) and on an odd-man rush the other way, it was easy for Kadri to bury it on Desmith for a 2-0 CGY lead.

Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter work a little give-n-go and Malkin’s shot hits the post in the last shift of the period for a little sign of life, but overall not a good start for the Pens being out-shot again by a wide margin (20-6) and down 2-0 on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.

Second period

Poulin’s rough introduction to the NHL continues with a minor penalty. Calgary quickly scores on their power play with Jonathan Huberdeau ripping a shot from distance to make it 3-0.

For the second time in as many nights, Sidney Crosby gets high-sticked. Luckily the captain is OK, and he probably doesn’t mind since the Pens finally get on the board. Carter takes a shot that might be a “pass off the pads” and Jacob Markstrom plays his part by kicking out the rebound directly to Malkin. Geno buried it into the open net and the Pens are on the board at 3-1 with still plenty of time left in the second.

By this point, the Pens are playing better (or perhaps score effects have just set in for Calgary) and Pittsburgh is up 11-2 in shots on goal mid-way through the second. Unfortunately enough though, the Flames wake up and take back momentum. Michael Stone fires a shot from the point and with traffic in front DeSmith can’t track it and Calgary gets their three-goal lead back at 4-1 just past the mid-point of the second.

The Pens get another power play and the passing and zone time is through the roof. Bryan Rust gets a point blank chance but Markstrom denies him.

Shots in the period by the last intermission have swelled to 19-3 Pittsburgh. They end up 20-4. After two periods, shots are 26-24 overall in favor of the Pens. After the first 15 minutes that is shocking.

Third period

The Pens get two third period power plays, but can’t strike to get closer and a fairly uneventful ending goes down in Calgary.

Some thoughts

  • The Pens didn’t get many shots early, and some of that was on them. Crosby had an angle to get the puck on net, but opted to throw the puck back to the point through two players (didn’t work). Kasperi Kapanen looked like he had a look at the net but tried to force a pass through the middle (didn’t work). There’s problems defending when they don’t have the puck, but a lot of time when they aren’t getting shots there are issues in decision making with it as well.
  • Among the line changes was that Jeff Petry was removed from the power play group in favor of Rickard Rakell and the standard 4F, 1D power play. Wise move that is fully endorsed by Pensburgh.
  • Not sure why the Pens put Ruhwedel in for Joseph, but that might be a short-lived move. Ruhwedel was uncharacteristically a stand-out in a negative way (on ice for a GA, two minor penalties) and generally didn’t look comfortable or play very good on his off-hand.
  • On a night where there wasn’t a lot to like, I did like Carter playing on the wing and also the interplay between Carter and Malkin. Those two had some good things going on and Carter had perhaps one of his most noticeable games in a while.
  • Loved to see how Sullivan handled Poulin tonight too. The first timer makes a mistake with the puck and it ends up in his own net, which can be a ticket to the bench for a while. Also took a penalty and the other team quickly scored. Sullivan stuck with Poulin, and he ends up getting a power play assist on Malkin’s goal and also generates a couple of scoring chances on a mini-breakaway. Very active game for Poulin, and it’s great that he got the opportunity to play through some early troubles.
  • The fourth goal by DeSmith was a big turning point and deflating moment as the Pens were clawing back into the game. It’s arguably the first time goaltending has let Pittsburgh down this season so far. Routine shots with traffic have always given DeSmith a ton of trouble, and they can be trouble, but that’s a save an NHL team needs to have a chance to play winning hockey.
  • On the flip-side, it feels like Markstrom is always in top form playing the Penguins, winning five of his last six starts against Pittsburgh and only giving up two goals in his last three games. Then again, considering he was second in Vezina voting last year, he’s been in top form against lots of teams lately. Great night for him.

Western Canada has not been kind to the Penguins, but now they get a few days off to lick their wounds, maybe get a player or two back for next game — and the best salve of all, a matchup against the winless and dysfunctional looking Vancouver Canucks next game on Friday.